2012: Chris Nolan, Joss Whedon To Mercy Kill Superhero Genre
1996 — Independence Day is released over a long, obnoxious, rainy (source: I was there) July 4th weekend. Aside from being a borderline-flawless movie, it also brings us the second-coming of the summer blockbuster. It revitalizes our love-affairs with disasters, New York City blowing up, science-fiction, Will Smith and special effects.
It’s kind of fun being a little street urchin during those late 90s summers, despite the movies generally sucking. We get disaster flicks like Volcano and The Core. New York City is still fair game for the next five years, so Roland Emmerich has Godzilla shit velociraptors in Madison Square Garden, and for a moment, Matthew Broderick is a star again. In 1997, Men in Black inadvertently teaches a generation of children creative curse-words (“Pig-fucker!”) making Will Smith a mega-star, who then goes on to “act” in Wild, Wild West two years later, and gives us all a movie to pretend we were seeing before sneaking into South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut.
By then, The Matrix and Blade have arrived, demonstrating the potential power of a mighty alchemic equation:
((black leather + nostalgia + bullet-time) ÷ Star Wars fanboys coming into disposable income)) — reduced cost by removing Cruise and/or Smith from payroll = It’s time to make an X-Men movie!
Director Bryan Singer makes a hell of a movie with X-Men, and he demonstrates that people want familiar, predictable explosions when X2: X-Men United proves to be the superior movie to The Matrix Reloaded in 2003. In fact, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson had already confirmed the Spielberg Theorem one year earlier, which states that horror and mystery auteurs are the best at making blockbusters, giving us twin-blessing of Spider-Man and Lord of the Rings in 2002. No doubt now: The nerds are in command.
For better or worse, Christopher Nolan (a time-traveling wizard that has seen every Bond movie at least five times) invents the “reboot” in 2005, giving us Batman Begins, a deconstruction of the superhero genre. He proves talent and brand familiarity is more profitable than Schwarzenegger and ice-puns. Running out of street cred after Sam Raimi mercy kills Spider-Man 3 with a venomous tongue-in-cheek dance number, Marvel throws a Hail Mary, and accidentally discovers the element known as ‘Downeyium’ in an In ‘N Out Burger parking lot two blocks from Shane Black’s house. Iron Man descends like a deus ex machina and its happy-go-lucky attitude makes the dour Batman Begins look like a Lars Von Trier film. Then in 2008, Christopher Nolan mashes up Batman with Heat, calls it The Dark Knight, and I get alcohol poisoning the following Halloween while playing the “Drink Every Time You See the Joker” drinking game.
One writer’s strike, two Transformers movies, and no Best Director nominations for Inception later, and we reawaken in 2009 to find James Cameron leering at us, Zoe Saldana in one hand and a pair of 3D glasses in the other.
“You can have both or neither,” he says.
We collectively curse our libidos, JJ Abrams reboots Star Trek to great success, and we start paying $15 to see Nic Cage in Drive Angry 3D. Laughing our mouth-holes off of our faces at Mr. Cage’s performance, we decide to give this 3D shit a chance. The relationship proves to be destructive though, because nobody wants to pay $80 to take the family to see Megamind in 3D.
Rewind the clock for a sec. In March of 2009, Zack Snyder proves incapable of making a good Watchmen movie, and in April of 2010, Matthew Vaughn directs the competent Kick-Ass, a movie that combines the fun of Nic Cage shooting a Kevlar-wearing child and the comedic deconstruction of the superhero genre. Blood can be smelled in the water. A year later, Vaughn makes X-Men: First Class, rebooting the franchise that started it all to great critical success. It is in 2D, performs okay numbers and, somehow, it still makes more money than Green Lantern.
Finally, with Green Lantern, we arrive at the death-knell. A fun mixture of apathy, outdated DC-Comics concepts and cask-strength suck, Warner Bros. realizes it will never match Marvel’s success because their rogue’s gallery of characters are 1950′s American nerd power-fantasies that don’t adapt to modern storytelling very well. Except Batman.
The Dark Knight Rises, set to release in July of 2012 and close Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, will be the end of it all. It will, don’t fight it. And assuming Joss Whedon (Serenity, and all that is good on earth (except Dollhouse)) can get Robert Downey Jr., Thor, and Scarlett Johansson to read lines in front of a green screen, then The Avengers will be the last gasp for Marvel, no matter how hard they try to flog Iron Man, Thor and Captain America for sequels. Audience fatigue is at an all-time high and the 3D cash-cow lasted only three years, thank God. We’ll give Nolan and Whedon their collective/respective artist and fanboy benefits of the doubt next summer. Maybe we’ll even give Zack Snyder one last chance to repeat his Dawn of the Dead “yee-haw” attitude and 300 slow-mo bravado with Superman’s re-reboot (de-boot?) in Man of Steel come December 2012.
Maybe. But don’t mourn the passing of the superhero genre, and it is indeed a genre. The same way David Lynch killed sci-fi in the 80′s with Dune, and the way Kingdom of Heaven killed that brief “epic” fad Braveheart started up in the mid-90s, it’s time to take the superheroes out behind the barn and remind ourselves that Travis gets another dog after plugging Old Yeller with that fateful fist-full of buckshot. We had the good, (Spider-Man), the bad (Iron Man 2), and the worst (Daredevil). It’s time to get a new puppy.
May Batman rest in peace this time.
Image source: Cinemablend
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